US elections 2008

Page last updated at 04:44 GMT, Friday, 5 September 2008 05:44 UK
McCain vows to fight to change US

Max Deveson, Mike Bayham and Jennifer Copestake

Republican Party delegate Mike Bayham joins the BBC's Max Deveson and Jennifer Copestake to report on the drama, tension and razzmatazz of this week's Republican Convention.


4 September: 2340 local time (0440 GMT)

So it wasn't the stuff that made people weep, inspire epiphanies or intense feeling of euphoria leading to a change of underpants. But McCain's acceptance speech adequately did the job.

In his deferential way, McCain paid his respects to Barack Obama's historic presidential run while also pointing out the differences between himself and his Democratic opponent in policy and preparation for what is the world's most important job.

Here were the talking points:

Obama will raise your taxes, McCain will cut them.

Obama will socialise health care; McCain will seek a solution to protects quality while increasing access.

Obama will grow the federal government; McCain will cut it, vowing to take on Democrats, special interests and his own party.

Obama refuses to find a practical solution for bringing down the cost of energy in the short term; McCain supports more drilling and the construction of new nuclear power plants.

Obama is not prepared to effectively deal with hostile countries and his soft touch with their leaders will compromise American interests; McCain will stand tough while doing everything possible to avoid war, something he said his experience in Vietnam taught him to hate.

And he couldn't help working in a bit of his trademark salty wit, taking a jab at the messianic aura that has propelled the Obama campaign throughout the primaries and motivated 200,000 Germans to ecstatically chant his name in front of Berlin's Victory Column.

The crowd received McCain's message well, solidifying the Republican base that had only grudgingly accepted his candidacy and charged them up for what will be a hard fought campaign against a candidate with a tremendous financial advantage (Obama, unlike McCain, is refusing matching funds thus allowing him to spend in the general election without federal limits).

McCain's speech helped bring the party together, something Obama is still struggling to accomplish with more than a few Hillary voters still spurning the Democratic nominee's overtures.

The next great milestone in the campaign will be the first presidential debate later in September. It is something McCain looks forward to and he proposed holding more than the traditional three, something Obama, who is great at talking to friendly audiences but somewhat of a deer in headlights when fending against the on-site slings of opponents.

That time will be filled with generous salvos of paid campaign advertising as the Democrats claw and fight to regain the advantage after a week dominated by Hurricane Gustav and the GOP convention.

Often on the campaign trail, McCain ticked off a list of failed Arizona presidential candidates (Barry Goldwater, Mo Udall, Bruce Babbitt) and joked that Arizona was the one state in the Union where parents didn't tell their children they could grow up to be president.

With the polls starting to reflect the convention bounce the GOP has been hoping for and counting on this entire year, McCain might have helped his cause of ending the 48th state's losing streak in presidential elections.


4 September: 2300 local time (0400 GMT)

Dodging balloons, as the epic sound of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" echoes through a rapidly-emptying arena, I chat to the delegates.

"John was good, but Sarah was better," says Greg Smith of West Virginia.

"Sarah's my number one," says Ladonna from Georgia, clad entirely in denim with sparkly-rimmed glasses. "I'm gonna take a leave of absence from work and follow her on the campaign trail."

Jenniffer (no, that's not a typo) and Jessalyn from California rated John McCain's speech just as highly as his running-mate's, saying that the Arizona senator "didn't have as much to prove as Sarah Palin. He was quietly confident, while she was just confident."

So - plenty of loyalty to their party's nominee on display, but the delegates all seem genuinely smitten by Sarah Palin.

As the music stops, and all that remains is the sound of balloons bursting and cheerful chatter, I can't help thinking that this convention will be remembered not for John McCain's acceptance speech but for the debut of a woman who - barring some massive scandal - will be on the national stage for many years to come.


1900 local time (0000 GMT)

Not all of the political action takes place within the very secure confines of the convention centre. There are late-night parties, cocktail soirees and, of course, protests that at times take on the appearance of full-scale riots.

There have been reports that protestors have stepped up their haranguing of delegates beyond taunts, chants and shouts, in which some have been sprayed with bleach and one was injured when a brick was thrown at the vehicle she was riding in.

Prior to going to the final night of the convention, I decided to sample some of the characters hanging around on the other side of the double-metal mesh barrier separating the delegates from the rabble-rousers.

One of the first groups I encountered was Code Pink, one of the most vocal and controversial groups against the war in Iraq that isn't any happier with Barack Obama than they are with John McCain. A dozen or so women gathered outside of the MSNBC set-up, the base camp for the protesters, singing songs against the war and its advocates.

Not all of the protests had as many people. Just down the block there was perhaps the loneliest protestor, an individual whom I had met in New Hampshire back in 2004. He was advocating a draft of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. Bob, a native of Florida, said he is now supporting McCain and would have even done so had Obama picked the New York senator as his running mate, claiming that the eloquent Illinois politician would be bad for Israel.

The long-time Hillary advocate was not the only pro-McCain protestor on hand. A group of Egyptian Coptic Christians had gathered to protest the persecution of Arab Christians throughout the Muslim world, singling out Egypt in particular.

A group of ardent pro-life, anti-gay marriage advocates had assembled near the gates of the Xcel Center to demonstrate as well. Those interviewed were unanimous in their support of McCain, primarily for his selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

At all entrances to the convention centre were supporters of former presidential candidate and Republican Texas congressman Ron Paul. As it is too late for the favourite of those opposed to the "new world order" and for a near total "hands-off" approach by the federal government, I asked why they were still quite literally carrying the flag.

The Paulistas justified their activities by claiming that their support for Paul represent their support for the issues he champions and though there is a strong libertarian streak in Paul's message, almost all of them said they would support Constitutional Party candidate Chuck Baldwin and not Bob Barr, the candidate of the Libertarian Party.

There was another protestor carrying a 9/11 conspiracy banner who claimed that the truth of the terrorist attack had not been totally exposed, alleging that the US government masterminded the attack. After asking if he had received any harassment from the government for so publicly and vociferously promulgating his belief in a grandiose government conspiracy, he admitted he had not received any trouble.


1730 local time (2230 GMT)

If you were watching the convention last night, you might have been fooled into thinking that the Republicans are running against a new party called "The Media", rather than their traditional foes, the Democrats.

Rudy Giuliani informed delegates that "the citizens of the United States get to decide our next president - not The Media".

Later on, Sarah Palin said "if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in The Media consider a candidate unqualified".

And she had a "newsflash" for "all those reporters and commentators", namely: "I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion - I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."

As CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley told me last night, this tactic has a long pedigree.

The question is - will it work?

Will journalists be cowed by the accusations of bias and, literally, give the Republicans and Sarah Palin a good press?

If the ravereviews her speech received are anything to go by, then yes.

But there is plenty of grumbling within the press corps about the Republicans' attempts to close down journalistic inquiries about Mrs Palin, as this article from Joe Klein demonstrates.

Many news organisations are sending reporters up to Alaska to nose into her background.

And if and when Mrs Palin agrees to sit down to a one-on-one interview, she is likely to be asked some tough questions.

She will be asked why she now claims to have been an opponent of the famous "Bridge to Nowhere" when her previous support for it is a matter of public record.

And she will no doubt be pressed on her involvement in the firing of Alaska's public safety commissioner, a man who had refused to sack her sister's ex-husband when requested to do so by Mrs Palin's staff.

Attacking the media might be a win-win political gambit for the Republicans.

If it improves their coverage, great; if the negative attention continues, then the attacks can simply be portrayed as more evidence of media bias.

But if the media are goaded into digging up information about Sarah Palin that damages her reputation irreparably, then the tactic will have backfired.


1300 local time (1800 GMT)

Tonight the stadium will be packed with tens of thousands of screaming and energized partisans. Prior to the big event, there will be tribute videos and performances by major music acts. Millions tune in at home.

Too bad for the just officially nominated Republican presidential candidate, the aforementioned is a reference to kick-off of NFL football in East Rutherford, New Jersey, as the defending Super Bowl champions the New York Giants take on their hated rivals, the Washington Redskins.

Why would the National Football League and NBC take on the speech of John McCain's life and an important contribution in the national discourse about what will be one of the most historic elections in American politics? Money.

Though there is no shortage of media on the floor of the convention hall and it's likely that every credentialed delegate has been interviewed at least twice by journalists foreign and domestic, the networks seem almost to have contempt for the national conventions.

There used to be a time in America where news programmes were the anchors of networks. Now it's the court jesters of sit-com and sports that are king, with news shows an annoying distraction to networks that are now subsidiaries of light bulb manufacturers, elevator constructors and theme-park operators.

Conventions are quadrennial ratings losers for the networks, whose piece of the television pie has been decreased by the expansion of designer cable channels and satellite television.

Networks that once carried gavel-to-gavel coverage of both parties' conventions now allot it one prime-time hour per night... and grudgingly at that.

They complain that the conventions lack spontaneity and are nothing more than well-choreographed political rallies and infomercials. Perhaps. But they also provide the public extensive arguments and reasons why they should support their candidate and not the opposition.

With full convention coverage exiled to the cable domain of C-SPAN, FoxNews, CNN and MSNBC, there's now an indirect cover charge to watch the conventions. Oh, I guess one COULD watch public broadcasting, assuming the signal is strong enough.

Barack Obama set an audience record last Thursday when he accepted his acceptance speech. With NBC providing circuses in lieu of politics tonight, Mr McCain will have pulled off his latest upset if he can squeak out a viewership upset against the Giants' star quarterback Eli Manning.


1110 local time (1610 GMT)

Our diarist Mike Bayham explains the job of a delegate and weighs in on subjects ranging from abortion to gay marriage to tax cuts. Mike's intensity shows what makes party conventions the Superbowl of politics.


Delegate explains his role


Mike Bayham is a Republican delegate from the state of Louisiana. He is chairman of the New Orleans Young Republicans and has served on the Louisiana Republican State Committee since 1996. He's pledged to back John McCain for the party's presidential nomination, though he personally supported Mike Huckabee in the primaries. "I guess you could call me a Reagan Conservative," he says. "I believe the party should stand by its social conservative base, while also reaching out to new voters. The GOP is known for being too stuffy - I think it needs to be a Big Tent."

At the age of 34, this is already Mike's fourth convention. "On the floor of the convention, if you are a delegate, you are officially on the same par as congressmen, governors and wealthy power brokers. Among the people I have met at previous conventions are a future president (George W. Bush in 1996), Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani," he says. "I can't imagine any other country having a political event like this."

Max Deveson, 30, is the BBC News website's Washington reporter. He joined the BBC in 2001 to work as a political analyst in Westminster, later moving to the online world news team. He has an obsessive interest in the US and its politics and was particularly excited to land an interview with Ted Kennedy on his first assignment in Washington this year. When not obsessing about US politics, Max enjoys attempting to play Iron and Wine songs on the guitar.

Jennifer Copestake, 25, is an online video producer for World News America. She's been with the programme since its first broadcast in October 2007. After the conventions she'll be video-blogging from a BBC election bus on a 38-day road trip across the country. Jennifer was born in Canada and has reported for the CBC, the Hill Times, the Observer and More 4 News. She's been in Washington since early summer, but will return one day to London, where she lives with her fiance and two cats.

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